Every major computing platform has, in terms of gaming, something special about it. The color palettes, the sound hardware, the storage mechanisms, the available keyboards and joysticks... they all lend flavor to the games developed for each system.
The sound of a Commodore 64. The funky colors of a ZX Spectrum. The pure black and white of the early Macintoshes. All wonderful in their own ways.
But DOS gaming... it might just be the most amazing of all. Especially the period of time from the early 1990s through to about the mid-1990s. VGA graphics. Sound Blaster audio. Lots and lots of 3.5" floppies (with the occasional CD-ROM).
And the games... Oh, my. So many games. Bajillions of them. While there were a lot of stinkers (counting them is as futile as counting the grains of sand on the beaches of the world), the great ones were truly spectacular.
Nay. Life changing.
What follows are what I consider to be the 10 best DOS games that capture that "VGA plus Sound Blaster" aesthetic. These are presented in chronological order... purely because ranking them any other way made my brain explode.
Note: You may disagree with these choices. Heck, on a different day I might disagree with these choices as well. Fact of the matter is there are a lot of great VGA DOS games. But these are my picks. Today.
Wing Commander - 1990
The music. The storyline. The characters. The addictively fun space battle gameplay.
The early Wing Commander games (starting with the first) are an absolute joy to experience. If you haven't ever had the pleasure of playing through the first one, I highly recommend it.
It is so choice.
Civilization - 1991
No fancy-shmancy 3D.
No creating of religions. No "Cultural Victory."
The original Civilization is pure. Simple. Yet complicated.
Throughout my High School years I spent countless sleepless nights, sitting in front of my trusty old 286... playing Civilization.
Just one more turn. Just one more turn. Just one more turn. Then, eventually, Gandhi went nuts and murdered me. (That was due to a bug in the game... Gandhi was crazy.)
Star Control 2 - 1992
Top-down space battles (like a more complex Asteroids).
Ship-building. Planet exploring.
A complex and fascinating plot.
This game has it all. Star Control 2 (The Ur-Quan Masters) is an absolute classic. And for good reason. Honestly, Star Control 2 should be an entire course in any college that teaches game design or development.
Wolfenstein 3D - 1992
Ok, this is an obvious one.
Wolfenstein 3D (aka "WOLF3D") was the first First-Person Shooter to really capture the attention of computer gamers.
It was visually impressive, the gameplay was fun, and the music (and sound effects) have become absolutely iconic.
I still use WOLF3D to test the configuration of my Sound Blaster cards. No joke.
Day of the Tentacle - 1993
There have been a number of truly stellar adventure games. Many of them made during the DOS VGA era.
But Day of the Tentacle, the sequel to Maniac Mansion, might just be the most awesome of them all.
The art direction is unique and glorious in that good old VGA way. The audio is tremendously enjoyable.
Plus it is just super fun. It's nearly impossible to play "DOTT" without a smile on your face.
Even during the frustratingly hard portions.
SimCity 2000 - 1993
I love the original SimCity.
The Black and White Mac version. The EGA color DOS version. The Super Nintendo version.
They're all delightful, and I've invested more time in each than I can quantify.
But SimCity 2000... that remains, in my opinion, the high point in the SimCity series. And that includes the newer installments. The beautifully pixelated, isometric design is just too wonderful for words.
X-COM: UFO Defense - 1994
Turn based squad battles.
Building, upgrading, and designing bases across the globe.
Role playing elements for building up and equipping your soldiers.
Shooting little grey aliens in flying saucers while you save the residents of small towns.
X-COM is so good, it hurts.
Master of Magic - 1994
Imagine Civilization... but with magic.
That's Master of Magic. Sorta.
One of my all-time favorite strategy games, Master of Magic has an astoundingly pleasing to the ear soundtrack. And the visuals, while not groundbreaking, are just darn nice to gaze upon.
Anyone who enjoys turn based strategy owes it to themselves to spend a few days immersed in this game.
Dark Forces - 1995
You'll note that I didn't include DOOM (which came out in 1993) on this list. While DOOM is a great game -- and one that deserves every ounce of praise it gets -- of the early to mid-90s first person shooters... it's not my favorite.
That honor goes to Star Wars: Dark Forces.
The level design is downright inspired. The Star Wars-y soundtrack and sound effects make me... happy. Heck, the ability to blast Storm Troopers! This game was an absolute dream for even the most mild fan of Star Wars. Still is.
Master of Orion 2 - 1996
Rounding out the list is, quite possibly, one of my favorite strategy video games of all time.
Master of Orion 2 is all about space conquest.
No game before or since has done it better.
To this day, 24 years after it was released, I still regularly load this up.
Go play it. Right now. Your life will be better for the experience.